The truth about dog parks

There's nothing better than getting outside, enjoying the sunshine and stretching your legs with your favourite pooch by your side. It's even better when your canine companion can run free, sniffing this and sniffing that; the freedom of being unleashed. Most people venture to dog parks to experience this simple joy, but the truth is, dog parks are usually unstable and potentially dangerous places.

Essentially, dog parks (and by extension, doggy daycares) are full of rambunctious, overly excited dogs who, like most domesticated dogs in North America, do not know how to properly approach or greet other canines. Owners are frequently distracted, either on their phones or chatting with other dog people, and aren't paying as close attention to their pup's interactions as they should be. Dogs react quickly. Devastation can be caused in a matter of seconds, instigated by body language that can easily go unseen by a diverted human eye. As a responsible dog owner you must be watching, not only your dog, but the other dogs around him to ensure their safety and well-being.

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So, what causes a dog to be unhappy or misbehaved at the dog park? Well, simply put, some dogs would rather socialize with people. Some dogs are perfectly happy to go out and about with their human, and don't need dog on dog interaction. There are some dogs that adore playing and chasing and snuggling with other canines, but they are less common than we like to believe.

Most people want their dog to have doggy friends. I was guilty of this only until recently when I suddenly realized that my two year old goldendoodle Sophia, wasn't all that interested in playing with every single dog she met, regardless of how she pulled on her leash in excitement at the sight of another dog.

The truth is, dog parks and dog daycare aren't ideal places for every dog to expel their energy. For dogs that love to socialize and can tolerate exuberant, sometimes inappropriately dominant dogs, it can be a great outlet for energy. However, we must remember that dog park loving dogs aren't always the best behaved and the best behaved or well socialized dogs don't always love dog parks. For one second, and for this circumstance only, think of dogs as humans. Not all people love going to crowded parties full of drunken, loud strangers. Some prefer to have coffee with one or two friends. It's exactly the same thing for dogs. But because of what we know about the history of dogs and wolf packs, we think dogs love to be surrounded by other dogs.

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The fact is, just because dogs have historically run in packs, doesn't mean that's what they need. While dogs and wolves can form strong bonds with others of their species, for the most part, they merely tolerate others. The human race has bred and engineered dogs to be human companions, man's best friend. So why is it so unreasonable that they should simply enjoy quality time with us? Don't get me wrong, it's great when a dog can have a true canine companion to spend his or her life with. I do believe that dogs that interact positively with other dogs are more balanced.

Dogs who are shy, very young or very old, simply don't like to play or get overwhelmed easily are better off avoiding dog parks and doggy daycare. Some dogs get overwhelmed, anxious or afraid at dog parks or doggy daycare. Not only is this not fun for the dog, it can create an unbalanced energy and subsequently unbalance the state of mind of every other dog in the vicinity. In the case of an unbalanced, unhappy dog at daycare, the owner is also wasting their money because the dog is clearly not getting the socialization or physical exercise that they need. So if your dog daycare staff tell you that your dog isn't suited for daycare, you should thank them. They obviously care enough about your dog that a) they noticed your precious pooch was not having a good time and b) they aren't trying to cash in by pretending your dog loves daycare so as to keep you as a regular client.

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Knowing what I know about dogs and dog behaviour, walking or running and exploring outside is a natural instinct for them and provides the greatest mental and physical stimulation. An hour long walk or run is substantial for most dogs, especially when they are going to new places and meeting new friends (not at a dog park but in a more controlled and natural setting). Small, group walks and adventures provide more than adequate mental and physical stimulation. Your dog will be well rested for the remainder of the day.

Just remember, dogs are the only creatures in the world who love us more than they love themselves. So let's not be selfish with that love.

So what's your take? Ever had a bad experience at a dog park? Or alternatively, some good memories from dog parks? Feel free to email me photos of your dogs!